Maria Spagga’s Meatballs

My Italian Grandmother was affectionally called by her maternal family name, Spagga.  From a small village in the mountains outside Cortina—one of Alto Adige’s fashionable ski resorts—my Nonna, a Ladine-speaking farmer’s daughter, was a remarkable cook. She used minimal ingredients but always picked the best she could find.  Friends and family congregated in her large kitchen to watch her cook, hear her tell stories of the old country and listen to her brag in broken English about her family, clearly the most accomplished in all of Price Hill.

I share with you this recipe from Maria Spagga which she gave to my waspy mother, Helen, who in turn passed on to her two daughters. When looking for it in my old-fashioned, recipe index card box, I noticed it only had a list of ingredients, no instructions.  So, the first part of the recipe is totally authentic.  The second part, I’ve written based on just having just made the meatballs for dinner!


3 slices bread, wet

1 pound hamburger meat

1 stalk celery, chopped fine

1 small onion, chopped fine

2 gloves garlic, chopped fine

½ teaspoon Nutmeg   

3 Tablespoons parsley, finely chopped

1 egg, lightly beaten

Salt and pepper, to taste

Cooking Instructions

Soak bread in ½ cup milk for a few minutes. Drain and squeeze out liquid. 

In a large bowl, add the bread and all the remaining ingredients.             

Using your hands, mix well (around five minutes) to make sure all ingredients are fully integrated.

Use a Tablespoon or small dough scoop to divide the mixture. (The size is up to you. I like small meatballs.)

Then, with cleaned, wet hands, form into round meatballs.

Fry for 6 minutes in a large skillet with olive oil, over a medium heat.

Make sure all sides are nicely browned.  You may need to do this in two or three batchers as you don’t want to crowd your meatballs when frying them.

Drain on a paper towel before adding to your tomato ragu and simmer for 20 more minutes. 

Enjoy with cooked spaghetti and grated Parmigiano Reggiano. The real deal!

Serves six.

Wine selection:  A good Chianti Classico